Fears for hospital staff grow as two workers assaulted every day
Two members of hospital staff are assaulted every day - with nurses and midwives the most at-risk group, the Herald can reveal.
Almost 3,500 staff have been physically attacked in Irish hospitals over the last five years.
Shocking figures released by the HSE showed that every day in Ireland, two members of staff are physically attacked at acute statutory hospitals across the country.
In total 3,462 workers have been attacked between January 2011 and May 2016.
Nurses and midwives have been the most targeted members of staff, with 2,261 assaulted in the given period of time, which is 66pc of the overall number.
The information was released to the Herald by the HSE under a Freedom of Information request, and highlights the scale of violence that hospital staff face every day.
Some 521 attendants and 289 care workers have been assaulted at hospitals across the State since 2011, while 50 catering employees have also been the victim of a physical attack.
There were also 49 physical harassment incidents recorded during the period.
The National Incident Management System (NIMS) - which records assaults on staff reported at HSE acute hospitals - only began collating information on the attacks in June 2015 after the recording system was revamped.
Since the information became available on NIMS last year, it has been found that the majority of assaults were by a service user.
Seven attacks involved members of the public, while four members of staff were responsible for attacking or assaulting a colleague.
Meanwhile, a family member or relative was involved in three incidents.
In the last two years, only one incident involving a prisoner being treated at an Irish hospital has been recorded.
The figures do not include assaults at the three health facilities within the Children's Hospital Group.
Unions representing hospital staff as well as the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation are currently in the process of Workplace Relations Commission talks with the HSE where, among a host of other concerns and issues among staff, security protocols and arrangements are being discussed.
"Work-related aggression and violence is an issue which the HSE takes very seriously as it can negatively affect the quality of working life for staff, compromise organisational effectiveness and impact negatively on the provision of care services," a spokeswoman for the HSE said.
"The HSE has in place a comprehensive employee well-being process which includes Occupational Health Services, Employee Assistance Services and Critical Incident Stress Management supports which are available to staff.
"Progress has been made, particularly as the HSE HR National Health and Safety Function is developed, in the areas of training, support networks and risk management," the spokeswoman added.
The health organisation also said that every incident of verbal abuse would not be recorded by staff and that such incidents are managed and evaluated on an individual basis.
"It is important to keep in mind that patients and families are in some cases experiencing life-changing events.
"Even in situations with positive outcomes, patients - including mothers and/or their families - can become more emotional than usual.
"Patients are under the influence of medication. Sadly, in some cases, a family is grieving.
"In these circumstances, unless the threat is judged to be serious, staff would not normally record every instance of verbal abuse, as they evaluate and manage individual situations, in context, as part of their work," the HSE said.
Fianna Fail spokesman on health Billy Kelleher said that every incident of this type must be taken seriously.
The TD expressed his shock at the numbers and said "any assault on frontline staff is something that should be viewed very seriously".
He said the threat of violence faced by staff contributes to the "stress and pressure that nurses work under in our emergency departments and across our health system".
He said that gardai must be notified of any attacks on health workers immediately and ensure that there are prosecutions.
Mr Kelleher called on the HSE to continually monitor the situation to ensure that there isn't an escalation in the number of attacks.
"Our emergency departments are under huge pressure around the country but that's no excuse for anybody to assault a nurse who's there to help and assist.
"Any assault on them must be treated very seriously," he said.